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Late for Lunch Spells California Labor Lawsuits and a Shifting Work Environment

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Meal and Rest Break Violations seem to be on the rise, but will employees really benefit when a workplace changes from friendly and family-oriented to big-brother bureaucratic?

Los Angeles, CAOver the last few years, a great percentage of California labor lawsuits have focused on meal and rest breaks. For instance, overtime lawsuits have added causes of action for meal and rest break penalties.

Recent Meal and Rest Period Lawsuits



According to Class Action Reporter, a number of California labor law lawsuits seeking unpaid wages for meal and rest breaks were filed in January alone. Plaintiff Maria Castro claims that Cedars Sinai Health System and Cedars Sinai Medical Center failed to provide meal and rest periods, failed to pay premium wages for missed meal and/or rest periods, and other related wage violations.

And UPS is facing yet another violation of the California labor code. Brandon Vawter alleges that UPS failed to “provide meal periods, rest periods, minimum wages, overtime, complete and accurate wage statements resulting from unfair business practices…” Vawter worked at UPS as a non-exempt hourly worker in Los Angeles (UPS is a courier service based in Georgia).

Thirdly, Eliana Morales has sued Napa Center, a physical therapy clinic in the Del Aire, California over missed breaks and overtime pay.

And a small victory for farmworkers: a federal judge gave the green light to expand a class action against Fowler Packing. The class action --which could include more than 14,000 farmworkers—alleges that the farming giant did not provide seasonal migrant workers adequate meal and rest breaks, amongst other causes of action. Courthouse News Service reports that the class action is now closer to trial after U.S. District Judge Dale Drozd certified seven subclasses in the lawsuit. (The wage-and-hour class action suit was initially filed by plaintiffs in March, 2015: Case 1:15-cv-00420-DAD-SAB).

Too Many Late Lunches?



From the other side of the table is Tom Manzo, editor of the Times of San Diego (Dec 2017). Manzo says that late lunch breaks can cost California employers millions of dollars and there were over 6,000 lawsuits pertaining to meal break violations in the last year alone. Manzo knows this statistic because he purchased the list from the state. And a company he runs called Timely Industries was also hit with a PAGA (Private Attorneys General Act) lawsuit.

While so many late lunch lawsuits are costing employers millions, attorneys are sweeping the table after those employees who had late lunches.

“A disgruntled employee can go see an attorney over taking late lunch breaks that would consist of anything over 5 hours, even a minute. The attorney then will review their paycheck stub and look for other violations… and all are stacked into one big suit. What makes this worse is the employee now represents every employee and the lawsuit becomes a class action and can go back four years to include all past employees. Even if your employees have taken their lunch at 11:30 a.m. for many years, if their start time is 6 a.m., you are in violation for a late lunch.”

Manzo said his family-oriented company is now bureaucratic; its environment and culture changed due to the PAGA suit.

“There was trust in allowing employees to take lunch without punching in and out, but now they have to, because the state does not trust the employee, the employer, or the organization. At Timely there are no more flexible hours, no bonus incentives, no working past 10 hours, all for fear of another suit. If an employee works past ten hours they have to waive their second lunch and we cannot get a good answer if that should be done daily, weekly, etc.”


Who really benefits in the end from lawsuits such as this one? At the end of the day, maybe not even the employee. Certainly not the employer. The attorneys certainly benefit.

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READER COMMENTS

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I, and my coworkers, are given overtime without breaks. I have worked 10 hours with no morning break, or lunch break, and only given five minutes late in the day.
I have also worked 12 hours without any afternoon break offered.
Afternoon breaks are routinely not given, buy the break button on the Kronos machine has been disabled, so there is no recited or or missed breaks recorded.

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